Church of Mission San Luis de Apalache
Church of Mission San Luis History
By: Christopher T. Clayton-Burns, Fall 2015
Mission San Luis was one of one-hundred missions established between the 1560’s and 1690’s in the southeast section of North America. Its location was the Apalachee Province, which today we know as Tallahassee, Florida. The mission was established by two friars: Pedro Munóz and Francisco Martínez. The establishment of the mission came as a result of Apalachee Indian leaders requesting that priest’s minister among the native people of their reservations to strengthen their faith during times of epidemics, and threats of foreign attacks. The mission was originally named San Luis de Inhayca, and served as the main village of the Apalachee Indians, and eventually also served as the military post for Spanish soldiers in which the Apalachee Indians would house and feed the Spaniards. In 1656 the Spaniards decided to relocate the mission to what is considered the second highest hilltop located exactly two miles west of Florida’s capitol building; The mission was also renamed to San Luis de Talimali. The mission not only became a military post for the Spaniards, but also became a trading ground for merchants, as well as the Apalachee who were compensated for the food they grew at the mission to feed the soldiers. The Church of Mission San Luis does not have a name, but served an important role in the everyday life of the Apalachee Indians as well as the Spaniards who arrived at the mission five years after it was built. In order to coexist with one another both the Spaniards and the Apalachee had to alter some of their traditions. For instance, the Spaniards favored Catholicism, and were
opposed to there being any other religion besides this one. Therefore, the Apalachee had to convert to Catholicism and learn how to be a Christian. Apalachee Indians even began crafting things that related to being Catholic, such as the cross pictured to the right, to indicate their acceptance of the Catholic faith. The church played a key role, because this was the place that the Apalachee as well as the Spaniards would unite to attend Saturday evening prayer services, 11a.m. Sunday Services, baptisms, marriages, funerals, and religious holidays. The Apalachee adopted so many aspects of the Catholic religion. They truly took to heart being able to coexist with the Spaniards who even during this time were marrying the native women due to a lack of Spanish women at the mission. Sometime in the 1680’s a friar by the name of Fray Marzelo De San Joseph personally translated a letter written by the Apalachee leaders to the King of Spain, who at the time was King Charles II, proclaiming their loyalty to the King and the Catholic faith. The Church of Mission San Luis stood at fifty by one-hundred-and-ten feet. This is where a number of events took place. Beginning with baptisms, when one entered the church the baptismal pool was located directly in the left corner of the building. Baptisms usually began at the door with the priest directing questions to the child being baptized, and then the family would continue forward in the church to the baptismal
pool to complete the ceremony. Apalachee Indians also adopted from the Spaniards the way in which burials were conducted. The church housed a cemetery which was located underneath the church itself. There are said to be more than seven hundred native burials within the church cemetery. The most important people within the mission, such as friars, priests, and Apalachee chiefs were buried closer to the alter of the church. It was native custom to bury loved ones with valuable personal items, however since adoption of Catholicism this tradition was forbidden. Nonetheless, natives were allowed to bury loved ones with more traditional items; items that were more than likely owned by everyone, and not having a high value. One interesting fact about the church is its method of teaching the Apalachee Indians about Christianity. As suspected, the Apalachee had their own native tongue, and were not completely able to understand friars and priests when it came down to communicating the information. To break the language barrier, pictures lined the church walls. Friars and priests used pictures such as the one shown here to convey the important message that would otherwise be found in the text. Take the picture located to the right for example, this picture would have been used to talk about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Not only did friars and priests use these pictures, but they also took it upon themselves to learn the native language of the Apalachee Indians. They spent most of their time in the friary which was a building separate from the church itself, but was still part of the church. While in the friary, friars and priests along with native interpreters practiced speaking the native language in order to make communication more effective.
Historically it is known and documented that Spain, France, and England had been fighting to gain control over Florida’s southeastern regions. To make matters worse slaves fled England to come to Florida to escape slavery. Slaves were granted their freedom by King Charles II if they converted to Catholicism. England did not like the fact that “their property” was under Spain’s control, and in 1701 England declared war on Spain. In 1702 five-hundred English military men as well as three-hundred of their Indian allies began attacking the missions that had been established in Florida slowly making their way to Mission San Luis. Between 1703 and 1704 historians document the events that took place between the England and Spain as the English and Indian Raids. On July 31, 1704 the English began marching towards Mission San Luis. In order to avoid being captured the Spaniards and the Apalachee villagers burned every building down including the church which possessed deceased loved ones. Today Mission San Luis de Apalachee, or Mission San Luis for short, is an archeological park, and living history village that celebrates Spanish and Apalachee heritage through the recreation of its buildings. It is open to the public Tuesday through Sundays, and welcomes visitors from all regions to come and learn about Tallahassee’s heritage. The church itself holds an annual Mass to commemorate the historical religious relationship between the Spanish and Apalachee Indians.
A Blended Heritage~The Hispanic Culture of Mission San Luis. n.d. <http://www.missionsanluis.org/research/history9.cfm>.
Crown and Church~Spanish Rule in the Americas. n.d. <http://www.missionsanluis.org/research/history3.cfm>.
La Florida on Fire~England and Spain Fight over Slaves and Land. n.d. <http://www.missionsanluis.org/research/history10.cfm>.
Mission San Luis Virtual Tour. n.d. <http://www.missionsanluis.org/virtualTour/>.
Mission San Luis~In Apalachee Province. n.d. <http://www.missionsanluis.org/research/history4.cfm>.